Author Archive

Paradise by Toni Morrison

April 20, 2011

Paradise by Toni MorrisonAuthor: Toni Morrison

Title: Paradise

Genre: Literary Fiction / Mystery / Bestseller (Oprah’s Book Club)

Publication Date: 1997

Number of Pages: 318

Geographical Setting: Mostly rural Oklahoma

Time Period: 1940s – 1970s, with flashbacks

Series (If applicable): none

Plot Summary: The legacy of an all-black town and the interwoven histories of its founding families dance around each other, while also playing into the murderous rage directed at a nearby “Convent,” where four women with painful pasts have chosen to remain separated from the rest of society. Suspense, mystery and magical realism all play their parts.

Subject Headings: Rural America – Oklahoma, African Americans, Slavery, Civil Rights, History

Appeal: Deliberate, densely written, atmospheric, chilling, darker, dramatic, emotionally-charged, haunting, menacing atmosphere, uneasy, unsettling, detailed, well-developed, complex, flashbacks, layered, historical details, rural, literary

3 terms that best describe this book: haunting, complex, unsettling

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – Race relations in America and the African-American experience.

Becoming Faulkner: the Art and Life of William Faulkner by Philip Weinstein – the subject of Toni Morrison’s Master’s Thesis and an oft-cited influence on her writing style.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – true stories of African-American migration told with compelling detail.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdich – rural Western U.S, somewhat fractured storytelling, interwoven stories with dark pasts, human relationships, detailed and unsettling.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende – magical realism, lyrical prose, detailed and well-developed.

Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates – a haunting and disturbing tale driven by psychological suspense and the darker side of human nature.

Name: Genevieve Grove

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

April 13, 2011

The Wordy Shipmates

Author: Sarah Vowell

Title: The Wordy Shipmates

Genre: Non-Fiction Audiobook / History

Publication Date: 2008

Number of Pages/CDs: 6 discs (7 hours)

Geographical Setting: New England

Time Period: 17th Century

Series (If applicable): none

Plot Summary: Frequent NPR contributor Sarah Vowell leads the reader through the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by English Puritans and how those settlers views and actions color American politics to this day. While the Pilgrims continue to be celebrated yearly, this slightly-later group of settlers are unfamiliar to most. Vowell recognizes that many Americans learn history via pop culture, herself included, and uses popular points of reference and her own experiences to keep the narrative moving along and palatable to those who might otherwise shun a straightforward historical account.

Subject Headings: American history, Puritans, 17th Century, Religion, Politics, Boston, New England, Rhode Island

Appeal: Compelling, candid, contemplative, humorous, thoughtful, detailed, engaging, vivid, well-drawn, complex, issue-oriented, layered, resolved ending, thought-provoking, accurate, details of early America, historical details, political, accessible, chatty, informative, natural, smart, unpretentious, well-crafted, well-researched, witty

3 terms that best describe this book: informative, accessible, witty

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach.

Accessibly written look at how humans cope in space (without air, gravity, showers or beer). Seemingly academic subject, thoroughly researched, but shared in humorous, readable language with personal anecdotes.

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Dr. Guy Deutscher.

An exploration of the idea that language shapes cultures and influences the thoughts of its speakers, concepts often avoided by linguists. Intellectual discovery shared in an enjoyable manner and illustrative of how societies can be continually influenced by the past.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

Witty and engaging, if sometimes rambling, Bryson delivers history via the elements of a home. Popular narrative nonfiction that seeks to both educate and entertain.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.

Rich characters and witty writing combine to make depressing, weighty topics a fun read. (Sarah Vowell has written the introduction to another Hornby book, so she’s clearly a fan, too.)

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin.

Comedy delivered with a droll voice, and most readers will come away having learned a bit about the art world, to boot.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse.

A classic humor collection which revels in clever turns of phrase and expert comic timing. While somewhat analogous to TV sitcoms, this 1925 book continues to attract fans of intelligent wit.

Name: Genevieve Grove

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon

April 5, 2011

The Alchemist's Daughter

Author: Katharine McMahon

Title: The Alchemist’s Daughter

Genre: Women’s Lives and Relationships / Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 338

Geographical Setting: Buckinghamshire, England (some scenes in London)

Time Period: 1700s

Series (If applicable): none

Plot Summary: Nineteen year-old Emilie Selden has lived her entire life on her family’s estate, learning alchemy and natural philosophy from her father, himself a student of Isaac Newton. Her mother died in childbirth, leaving Emilie her exotic French features and not much else. While Emilie is a brilliant scientist, she has had no exposure to society, nor to matters of the heart. Her father protects her fiercely, but even his shelter can not keep her from the eyes or arms of the dashing merchant who comes to call. Cast out of her only home and into the clutches of the London social scene, Emilie makes startling discoveries about human nature, her father’s scribbled observations, her new husband’s motives and her own strengths and weaknesses.

Subject Headings: history, scientists, romance, England, London, high society, fathers and daughters, 18th century

Appeal: easy pacing, engrossing, dramatic, introspective, thoughtful, closely observed, detailed, eccentric, flawed, sympathetic, well-developed, character-centered, domestic, sexually explicit, thought-provoking, detailed setting, details of scientific method, historical details, small-town, classic, descriptive, frank, polished, smart

3 terms that best describe this book: self-discovery, young woman, England

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Newton and the Counterfeiter: the Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson.

Details how Newton outwitted master counterfeiters as Master of the Mint. (For those interested in more about the science of the time)

Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England 1600-1770 by Emily Cockayne.

An examination of how truly gross things were in ye olden days, from dead bodies on the curb to how horribly the living people smelled, too. (For those who appreciate lively, witty explanations of history)

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick.

A tribute to the lasting contributions made by the Royal Society 350 years ago. (For those interested in Emilie and her father’s work and the group he participated in/revered)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

The Glass Virgin by Catherine Cookson.

Detailed historical fiction about a sheltered young English woman whose family is not all it appears. She must also question who she really is and plot twists build as she grows from a girl into a woman. (Historical / similar dark family secrets and personal discovery/growth)

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys.

Historical fiction set in England during the Second World War. Gwen Davis leaves London to work with the Women’s Land Army raising crops in the countryside. She is socially awkward and inexperienced, thrust into a tumultous world, but perhaps the attentions of a Canadian soldier stationed nearby can open her eyes and heart. (Historical / similar awkward young woman and romance)

The Wet Nurse’s Tale by Erica Eisdorfer.

A bawdy young woman in Victorian England enters the upper class world as a wet nurse, leaving her illicitly-conceived child and abusive father behind. (Historical / for fans of Emilie’s London-born maid Sarah, who had her own demons to hide)

Name: Genevieve Grove

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

March 30, 2011

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Author: Powell, Julie

Title: Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen: how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living (1st. ed.)

or

Julie and Julia: my year of cooking dangerously (pbk.)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Best Seller

Publication Date: 2005

Number of Pages: 309

Geographical Setting: New York City

Time Period: 2002-2003, shortly after 9/11

Series (If applicable): none

Plot Summary: Feeling the need for some kind of purpose or guidance in the wake of September 11th (and while working unhappily for a closely-related government agency), the author stumbles upon her mother’s old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by PBS-staple Julia Child. Her husband introduces her to the blossoming world of blogs and she decides to chronicle her journey of cooking every recipe in the book over the course of a year. Soon she has dedicated blog followers, frustrating shopping lists, an exasperated mother, a mostly-patient husband, maggots in the kitchen and media attention.

Subject Headings: cooking, self-discovery, writing, food writing, blogs, New York City, Julia Child, French cooking, memoir, marriage, anecdotes

Appeal: easy, candid, humorous, sarcastic, flawed, quirky, domestic, episodic, strong language, contemporary, urban, accessible, candid, chatty, profanity, witty

3 terms that best describe this book: searching, food, humor

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):
3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste by Ayun Halliday.
Fans of the quirky humor Julie Powell bestowed on her food writing may really enjoy this tome, by a fellow New Yorker.

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones.
The editor that brought Julia Child to the world also had a fascinating career herself, full of food, books and adventure. Readers who found Powell’s meal descriptions tantalizing may eat up this book.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.
Many readers now picking up Julie and Julia have already seen the movie and may be disappointed by the book’s significant lack of “Julia time,” as compared to the film. This collection of letters flushes out the real-life friendship between Julia and Avis in a way Powell’s book can not.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith.
Fans of intelligent humor often cite McSweeney’s and The Believer as must-reads. Here, many of those writers are brought together for short character studies, just as delectable as Powell’s descriptions of her friends and co-workers.

Citizen Girl, by Emma McLaughlin
For those readers who can sympathize with Julie Powell’s frustrating work experiences and the desire to go further than the corporate world seems to allow. McLaughlin also wrote the popular Nanny Diaries books, prized for their humor and relatable heroine.

Secrets to Happiness, by Sarah Dunn
Marital discord can be funny and those who enjoyed peeking into Powell’s homelife alongside her foodlife may enjoy this story of a newly-divorced New Yorker playing therapist to her friends.

Name: Genevieve Grove

Red Rover

February 15, 2011

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Author: Deirdre McNamer

Title: Red Rover

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2007

Number of Pages: 264

Geographical Setting: Montana

Time Period: 1927-2003, large portions take place during and post WWII

Series (If applicable): no

Plot Summary: Brothers Aidan and Neil Tierney are close as boys, riding horses across the Montana wilderness, waving at Lindberg as he flies over, playing the parts of gauchos on their faithful steeds. But children grow up and these brothers are separated by WWII, Neil as a bomber pilot and Aidan into treacherous undercover duty with the FBI in South America. Aidan’s friend Roland Taliaferro joins the FBI, as well, but doesn’t suffer as his friend does. Aidan returns to Montana sick, thin and shaken and dies within years. Government secrets, friendships and loyalties are all tested as the years pass and Neil tries to uncover the reasons behind his brother’s death and Roland examines his role through the lens of time.

Subject Headings: WWII, FBI, Montana, Historical Fiction, Brothers, Male Friendships

Appeal: The pacing comes across as relaxed, but chapters are short (as is the whole book, comparatively) so the story builds at a steady pace. McNamer writes lyrically with poetic landscape descriptions and thoughtful dialogue for her realistic, familiar characters. The story unfolds while bouncing between time periods and characters, but the multiple plot lines are brought together in a very satisfying manner at the end. Much of the action takes place in a rural setting, but it does not feel stark. The complexities of the characters are developed in a graceful, earthy way and the writing complements the introspective moments without drawing attention to itself.

3 terms that best describe this book: Intrigue, brothers, resolutions.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-42, Daniel Ford: WWII combat pilots in the Pacific.
Montana: High, Wide and Handsome, Joseph Kinsey Howard: a scholarly, yet readable history of the state.
The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, Ronald Kessler: a historical look at the organization, with ample criticism of its directors.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

The Winter of the World, Carol Ann Lee: childhood friends struggle with feelings of betrayal and dark memories post WWI.

White Flag Down, Joel N. Ross: the outcome of WWII could be forever altered by an unlikely friendship between an American pilot, a Russian officer and a Swiss journalist.

The Honor of Spies, W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV: a German lieutenant/prisoner-of-war is about to be broken out of prison by those hoping to kill Adolf Hitler.

Genevieve Grove